Can Conflict Develop Our Character?

:04 read “Raise your thoughts, not your fists.” ~ Matshona Dhliwayo

Conflict, ugh. I admit it, my inner child is a complete wimp when it comes to conflict. I recoil at harsh words and arguing. Sometimes I slink off like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs. I leave the room and beat a hasty retreat to the pages of a book when news anchors disagree and begin viciously talking over each other. I long for peace and harmony. The past months have been torture. I ask you, does anyone else feel that way?

Conflicts are necessary at times, it’s a fact my grownup self recognizes. Despite that, I’ve been looking hard to find wise words to help cool the flaming anger so widely felt in the aftermath of a bitterly fought election process. I see deep hurt all around me and I crave a verbal “balm of gilead” to heal it. Julia Cameron writes this in her brilliant book, The Artist’s Way. “For most artists (note from me: this includes writers), words are like tiny tranquilizers.” I get it. Looking for calm, I always run to words to find comfort.

Looking for words that heal.

Once again, I dived into the rabbit hole, searching for wisdom. I found a 2010 article from Psychology Today written by Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D.  She stated, “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the state of deep inner knowing that your most sacred longings have been fully heard and acknowledged. And that can only be accomplished by moving into – and through – the fire.”

Dominic Barter, founder of Restorative Circles influenced her to take a different look at the cause of conflict. Barter’s theory is that painful conflict has to do with unmet and unheard  needs.  Thus, when we move further  away from the communication of the unmet need, the communication grows noisier to get our attention. In other words, people become louder and louder to compensate for being further apart in mutual understanding.

We have to acknowledge that democracy is a process, like birth, that is sometimes messy, painful, and loud.

Our words are powerful but so is our willingness to listen

My dear friend Pat McGill is a wise woman and a gifted speaker. I love the way she rearranges letters and creates acronyms to make her talking points “sticky” and memorable. Like this one; the word LISTEN can be rearranged to spell SILENT. It’s critical to develop our ability to listen. In fact, the mark of a truly mature person is the ability to listen attentively and with respect to someone with an opposing view.

I adore some of the young writers in the blogosphere. There’s a freshness about them that melts my heart and they have sweet compassion that seems somehow innate. What or who put it there, I wonder, but I sure do like it. Benjamin Mathes has a blog called The Urban Confessional.  He wrote a post this summer entitled How to Listen When You Disagree. It is powerful.

When someone has a point of view we find difficult to understand, disagreeable, or even offensive, we must look to the set of circumstances that person has experienced that resulted in that point of view.

Get their story, their biography, and you’ll open up the real possibility of an understanding that transcends disagreement.

Like the roots of a tree, our stories, which can create our beliefs, are completely unique, and also connected. It is through story that we can find common ground enough to co-exist in the face of great, often necessary, tension. 

When you find yourself in disagreement, just ask one question:

“Will you tell me your story?  I’d love to know how you came to this point of view.”

What else can we do to help the process?

I hope we will recognize this period of time as a huge opportunity to develop our strength of character. We can exercise positive traits like tolerance and patience. Most important, I believe, is to focus our attention on the aspects of day to day living that are within our control. We need to make sure we are acting responsibly and respectfully and live in a way that reflects our most worthy values. If everyone will take good care of the affairs in their own little corner of the world, things will begin looking brighter, you can be sure.

Circumstances do not make the man, they reveal him.” ~ James Allen



  • Gail

    Love the LISTEN that turns into SILENT. A person with a different attitude/opinion is wonderful. I could never learn from someone who was identical to myself. And it is great practice in learning tolerance. Thank heavens for all the different points of view!

  • Grant Newbold

    Thanks Betty. I think your words are very important and can be very helpful in this time of conflict and uncertainty. I know from our working together that although you are very talented at writing that it is a very difficult process and takes much energy and dedication. Thanks for your dedication to your worthy values and helping all of us. Sincerely, Doc Newbold

Leave a Comment or Question